Founders of Indonesia’s health and research institutes were prolific academic writers
Hans Pols, University of Sydney
For 90 years, between 1852 and 1942, the Medical Journal of the Dutch Indies (Geneeskundig Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch-Indië) was Indonesia’s most important medical journal in the colonial era. It published articles on medical research and medical care.
Today, the Indonesian Academy of Science (Akademi Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia) launches a book written by a group of Dutch physicians and medical historians, including myself, that provides an overview of the journal’s content.
The journal initially only published articles from European physicians. But in the 20th century a number of Indonesian physicians, graduates from the STOVIA (School ter Opleiding van Inlandsche Artsen), a medical school for native Indonesians (later the Batavia Medical School), published articles in the journal as well.
These Indonesian physicians, some of whom spent time in the Netherlands for advanced medical training, went on to become leaders and founders of medical education, care and research in Indonesia. The following are the most notable of them.
Sardjito, the founding president of Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, published 29 articles in the Medical Journal of the Dutch Indies. He wrote on topics related to bacteriology, public health, malaria, leptospirosis and leprosy, addressing disease conditions that were frequently present in Indonesians.
Sardjito graduated from the STOVIA in 1915 and completed a dissertation at the University of Leiden on bacillary dysentery. In 1924, he received a Master in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
In the 1930s, Sardjito headed a medical laboratory in Semarang. During the war of independence between Indonesia’s independence fighters and the Dutch army (1945-1949), he moved most of the medical equipment of the Pasteur Institute in Bandung, West Java, to Klaten, Central Java.
The Pasteur Institute was the main manufacturer of vaccines in the Dutch East Indies; its employees conducted bacteriological research. When the British and Dutch armed forces took control of Batavia (now Jakarta), Indonesia’s president, Sukarno, and his vice president, Mohammad Hatta, and almost all ministers and government officials moved to Yogyakarta.
Apart from a small group of physicians who continued to teach in Jakarta, most instructors of the recently established Indonesian Faculty of Medicine moved to Central Java.
Sardjito was an active member of the Association of Indonesian Physicians. In December 1949, he was the first president of the University of Gadjah Mada, the first dean of medicine, and a professor of bacteriology.
Sarwono Prawirohardjo is one of the most important builders of medical and scientific institutions in independent Indonesia. Sarwono founded the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association, or Perkumpulan Keluarga Berencana Indonesia (PKBI). He is also the first chairman of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
A specialist in gynaecology, he published articles related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Sarwono graduated from the STOVIA in 1929 and from the Batavia Medical School in 1937.
In 1950, he was appointed professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Indonesia (FKUI). He was a member of the committee that organised the Indonesian Doctors’ Association, or Ikatan Dokter Indonesia (IDI), in 1950 and served as its president between 1952 and 1953.
Sutomo Tjokronegoro was the first professor of pathology at the FKUI in 1950. He became known as the father of the study of pathology in Indonesia. At the FKUI he conducted research on cancer.
Sutomo received his medical degree at the Batavia Medical School in 1935. He taught there and specialised in pathology, forensic medicine and internal medicine.
Sutomo published articles in the journal on forensic medicine, cancer, ulcers and tuberculosis. In 1942, he became an editor for the journal.
Sutomo also wrote an influential book on the nature and characteristics of bahasa Indonesia.
Raden Djenal Asikin Widjaja Koesoema
Asikin graduated from the STOVIA in 1914 and received his medical degree at the University of Amsterdam in 1925. He was associated with several medical laboratories in Europe before returning to Indonesia.
He wrote about various methods of analysing blood samples and their use in diagnosis.
Asikin became assistant instructor at the Batavia Medical School and vice-head of the division of internal medicine at the hospital next door (today the Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital). He was appointed professor at the FKUI in 1950.
Achmad Mochtar was the director of the Eijkman Institute during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia.
Mochtar graduated from the STOVIA in 1916, received a medical degree from the University of Amsterdam in 1927 and finished a dissertation on leptospirosis the same year.
After he returned to the Dutch East Indies, he conducted research on malaria and leprosy in various locations.
Mochtar was probably the most prodigious Indonesian medical researcher at the time. He authored 25 papers in the Medical Journal of the Dutch Indies and in international journals reporting his research on leptospirosis, malaria, leprosy, tuberculosis and bacteriology in general.
The Japanese executed Mochtar in May 1945. They had falsely accused him of preparing a batch of contaminated tetanus vaccines. As a consequence, Indonesia lost one of its most able medical researchers.
Founders of Indonesia’s health and research institutions
These Indonesian physicians, like their Dutch counterparts, published many articles in the Medical Journal of the Dutch Indies.
Their research contributed to the advancement of medical science. But they also became the most important architects of faculties of medicine, hospitals and other health care institutions in Indonesia.
When we think about the Indonesian doctors who graduated from the University of Indonesia’s Faculty of Medicine and patients being treated at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital, the thousands of students educated in Universitas Gadjah Mada, LIPI’s role as a research institute, the role of PKBI in promoting reproductive health, and the Eijkman Institute’s world-class research in molecular biology, we should remember the legacies of these great early scientists of Indonesia and their penchant for scientific publishing.
CORECTION: A previous version of this article states that Achmad Mochtar was the director of the Eijkman Institute for molecular biology during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia. The Eijkman Institute became the Eijkman Institute for molecular biology in 1992.
Hans Pols, Associate Professor, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney
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